Is Darwinist Materialism Wrong? Can We Even Discuss The Question?
Yesterday's conversation about reaction to Marco Rubio's comments in a GQ interview brought to mind Thomas Nagel’s new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Have any of you read it?
I’ve been reading the reviews and they’re fascinating. The New Republic one says Nagel, a devout atheist, has “performed an important service with his withering critical examination of some of the most common and oppressive dogmas of our age.”
From Alvin Plantinga’s review “Why Darwinist Materialism Is Wrong” in The New Republic:
ACCORDING TO a semi-established consensus among the intellectual elite in the West, there is no such person as God or any other supernatural being. Life on our planet arose by way of ill-understood but completely naturalistic processes involving only the working of natural law. Given life, natural selection has taken over, and produced all the enormous variety that we find in the living world. Human beings, like the rest of the world, are material objects through and through; they have no soul or ego or self of any immaterial sort. At bottom, what there is in our world are the elementary particles described in physics, together with things composed of these particles.
I say that this is a semi-established consensus, but of course there are some people, scientists and others, who disagree. There are also agnostics, who hold no opinion one way or the other on one or another of the above theses. And there are variations on the above themes, and also halfway houses of one sort or another. Still, by and large those are the views of academics and intellectuals in America now. Call this constellation of views scientific naturalism—or don’t call it that, since there is nothing particularly scientific about it, except that those who champion it tend to wrap themselves in science like a politician in the flag. By any name, however, we could call it the orthodoxy of the academy—or if not the orthodoxy, certainly the majority opinion.
The eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel would call it something else: an idol of the academic tribe, perhaps, or a sacred cow: “I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. … I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Nagel is an atheist; even so, however, he does not accept the above consensus, which he calls materialist naturalism; far from it. His important new book is a brief but powerful assault on materialist naturalism.
But it was another review of the book, which was also quite favorable to it, that really surprised me. I’ll just give the beginning and closing words from the review in The New Statesman:
Thomas Nagel is widely recognised as one of the most important analytical philosophers of his generation. In both the philosophy of mind and moral philosophy, he has produced pioneering and influential work. This book inherits many of the virtues of that work. It is beautifully lucid, civilised, modest in tone and courageous in its scope…
But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.
How about that last sentence? That last paragraph?